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Torah Attitude: Rosh Hashanah: Who will be our defence lawyer this Rosh Hashanah?
In a year that the shofar is not blown on Rosh Hashanah it is a bad omen for the end of that year. Rabbi Yacov Ettlinger points out that some of the best years in Jewish history, as well as some of the most difficult ones, were years when Rosh Hashanah fell on Shabbat. Rabbi Ettlinger compares this to a parable of two cabinet ministers who transgressed the law of the country and brought upon themselves the wrath of the king. When Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, then the spouse of the Jewish people, the Shabbat, will stand at the side of the Jewish people to defend us. How can we save ourselves from the Heavenly judgment if in the past we did not honour Shabbat but abused it in various ways? If the person takes upon himself from now on to change his ways and fulfill the commandments of the Torah, in that instant the person will acquire for himself the merit and the reward for any commandment that he has accepted upon himself. As we approach the Day of Judgment, it is up to us to ensure that Shabbat will be there to defend us in front of the Heavenly Court.
No shofar, bad omen?
The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 29b) teaches that when Rosh Hashanah falls on a Shabbat one may not blow the shofar outside the Temple. Earlier, it says in the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16b) that in a year that the shofar is not blown on Rosh Hashanah it is a bad omen for the end of that year. The Talmud explains that the blowing of the shofar is instrumental to stop the Heavenly Accuser from presenting his accusations. But when the shofar is not sounded the Accuser is able to proceed. Tosafos, in their commentary on the Talmud, explain that the Talmud is referring to an emergency situation that arose and caused that one could not blow the shofar, and not to a year when Rosh Hashanah falls on a Shabbat.
Rabbi Yacov Ettlinger
The obvious question arises, what difference does it make why one cannot blow the shofar? If we lack the instrument to quiet the Accuser, it seems irrelevant as to the reason that we lack it. The famous Rabbi of Altona, Rabbi Yacov Ettlinger (author of the Aruch Laner), explains this with a parable. He first points out that some of the best years in Jewish history, as well as some of the most difficult ones, were years when Rosh Hashanah fell on Shabbat. He proves from the Talmud that the year the Jewish people built the Tabernacle in the wilderness, indicating that G'd had forgiven them for the sin of the golden calf, started on Shabbat. Similarly, the year they entered the land of Israel was also a year starting on Shabbat. On the other hand, he quotes the Jerusalem Talmud and proves from there that both Temples were destroyed in years that Rosh Hashanah fell on Shabbat.
Rabbi Ettlinger compares this to a parable of a cabinet minister who transgressed the law of the country and brought upon himself the wrath of the king. The king instructed the high court to take up the case and to judge him with all the strictness of the law. The minister went from one lawyer to another to find someone who could defend him in court and present his case in the most favourable way. However, no one was ready to take on his case as they all felt that he was guilty and saw no point in defending him. The minister was very depressed and discussed with his wife what would be the best course of action. His wife comforted him and said, "You don't really need a lawyer to defend you. I have many good friends at the king's court and I will come along and speak up for you." On the day of the trial, this brave woman stood at her husband's side and in a very passionate way spoke up for his defence. Both the king and the court were very impressed and she managed to get him acquitted.
Not long after the acquittal, another of the king's ministers transgressed a similar law. Again, the king ordered him to be put on trial with all the strictness of the law. The minister's advisors encouraged him to look for a good lawyer to defend him. However, having fresh in his mind the recent court case of his colleague, the minister did not see the need to pay a lawyer and decided to ask his wife to come along and speak up in his defence. He knew that his wife also had many good friends in the court and he was not too worried about the whole thing. However, this second minister was an abusive person and often mistreated his wife, as was very noticeable by her appearance. Despite all the evil he had done to her, the good woman agreed to accompany her husband to court and speak up for him. And when the day of the trial arrived, she courageously came along with her husband. But as soon as the king saw her as she stood up to take the stand, he asked her what had happened to her. She tried to explain it in different ways, but it was clear that she was not telling the truth. The court inquired if anyone knew what had transpired and requested them to come forward and testify. One of the people present in court got up and explained how the husband regularly abused his poor wife. When the king heard this he said to the woman, "It is very commendable for you to try to defend your husband. But your mere appearance only adds to the accusations against him." Obviously, the court ruled against him and he was punished with all the strictness of the law.
Says Rabbi Ettlinger, when Rosh Hashanah falls on a weekday, the eagerness of the Jewish people to fulfill the commandment to blow the shofar is recorded in the Heavenly Court. And the sound of the shofar itself defends them. But when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, then the spouse of the Jewish people, the Shabbat (see Midrash Rabba Bereishis 11:8), will stand at the side of the Jewish people to defend us. The Shabbat has the best contacts in the Heavenly Court. As it says (Shemos 31:13): "She [the Shabbat] is a sign between Me [G'd] and you [the Jewish people] for all your generations." The Talmud (ibid) explains that our sages prohibited us from blowing shofar on Shabbat to prevent anyone from carrying the shofar in the street in a place where there is no eruv. In this way, Shabbat itself is our defence lawyer. But the Heavenly Court will investigate to see how our spouse, the Shabbat, has been treated by us in the past. If we honoured and respected her, then the Shabbat will be a wonderful lawyer to defend us. But if we have abused her throughout the year, then we have neither the blowing of the shofar nor the Shabbat in our defence.
How save ourselves?
With this parable, Rabbi Ettlinger shares with us an amazing insight; however, what are we to do if our Shabbat observance has not been the way G'd instructed us? How can we save ourselves from the Heavenly judgment if in the past we did not honour Shabbat but abused it in various ways?
Rabbeinu Yonah and instant change
Rabbeinu Yonah (Gates of Repentance 2:10) reveals to us how we can change our status in one instant. He says that when a person has transgressed any of the commandments of the Torah, and decides to turn around and start a new page in his life, he can achieve this by listening to the words of rebuke. If he accepts the rebuke and takes upon himself from now on to change his ways and fulfill the commandments of the Torah, in that instant, says Rabbeinu Yonah, he will acquire for himself the merit and the reward for any commandment that he has accepted upon himself. Rabbeinu Yonah proves this from what it says in the Torah (Shemos 12:28): "And the children of Israel went and they did as G'd had commanded Moses." This is referring to the laws of the Pesach offering that Moses taught them in Egypt. The Mechilta (Parashas Bo 12) points out that Moses instructed the Jewish people about these laws on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Asks the Mechilta, how can it say that the Jewish people "went and did what G'd instructed" if they did not bring the Pesach offering until the 14th of Nissan? The Mechilta answers that since they accepted upon themselves to fulfill G'd's instructions, G'd considered it as if they had already done so.
Shabbat source of blessing
As we approach the Day of Judgment this year, it is up to us to ensure that Shabbat will be there to defend us in front of the Heavenly Court. If we take upon ourselves to strengthen our observance of the laws of Shabbat, first of all by studying the laws of Shabbat, and secondly by being more cautious of their observance, then no doubt Shabbat will be there for us and help us to be inscribed for a year full of blessings. For as the Zohar writes, all blessings in the world depend on Shabbat. This is what we express in the hymn of Lecha Dodi every Friday night: "Let us go out together to greet the Shabbat for she is the source of all the blessing." Wherever we hold in our Shabbat observance, we can all take a step forward. Every step counts and makes a huge difference. May we all take our personal step in the right direction and merit all the Divine blessings and be inscribed for a good and sweet year.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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